London Kirk holds big debate on European Union

StColumb
(Left to right) Labour MP Kate Hoey, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Alistair Stewart, Conservative MP Harriett Baldwin, Labour MP Pat McFadden.

Hundreds of people attended a lively debate hosted by a Church of Scotland congregation in London on Britain's continued membership of the European Union.

The event at St Columba's Church on Pont Street was chaired by ITV newscaster Alastair Stewart and featured four senior politicians including a UK Government minister who passionately set out their arguments for Leave or Remain.

Former Secretary of State for Scotland Lord Michael Forsyth of Drumlean, a Conservative peer, and Kate Hoey,Labour MP for Vauxhall pressed the case for Brexit.

And Labour MP for Wolverhampton East Pat McFadden, who grew up in Glasgow, and HM Treasury Minister Harriett Baldwin, Conservative MP for West Worcestershire, argued that Britain should be leading the EU, not leaving it.

The Referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union is being held on June 23.

Respectful dialogue

Rev Angus MacLeod, minister at St Columba's Church which hosted a debate on Scottish Independence in 2014 and one for the General Election last year, said the event on Tuesday evening had been a great success.

"With the Scottish Independence Referendum and the General election last year, the Church of Scotland has made a significant and consistent contribution with its repeated plea and provision for respectful dialogue," he added.

Each of the four candidates were given three minutes to set out their position on the debate then answered questions from the audience put to them by Mr Stewart.

People also asked questions from the floor.

Topics discussed included trade, security, immigration, peace, potential ramifications for constitutional stability within the UK and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. (TTIP)

Ms Baldwin, who was married in St Columba's 12 years ago, argued that Britain had secured a special place in the EU over the last 40 years which provided the country with "the best of both worlds".

She told the audience that British passport holders were able to freely travel, work and study in all member states.

Mrs Baldwin said: "We will never sign up to the Euro, we did not sign up to the no borders Schengen area on mainland Europe, we have an opt-out from Euro zone bailouts and we have secured a deal to end ever closer union.

"We will never join a country called Europe but will have access to a free trade, zero tariff single market of 500 million people which is key to over three million jobs in the UK."

Mrs Baldwin argued that Britain's economy was bigger because it was a member of the single market and no other trade deal was as good.

She told the audience that a vote to leave the EU was a vote for risk, uncertainty and recession.

Mrs Baldwin said: "The UK is safer, stronger and better off in a reformed Europe than out on our own."

St Columba's Church Rev Angus MacLeod and his guests

Bear trap

But Lord Forsyth claimed the EU was not good value for money and Britain had become "impotent".

He pointed out that NATO was responsible for peace and security in Europe, not the EU.

The Tory peer asked: "Would you join the European Union today? I think probably not.

"It is a bit like walking in the woods and seeing a bear trap that is open.

"Do you put your foot in it? No.

"But what the Remain people are saying is I am going to put my foot in a bear trap and it is going to be so painful to extract it, we just ought to stay in."

Lord Forsyth said Prime Minister David Cameron spent six months touring European capital cities, telling people that Britain needed fundamental change and must take back control of its borders.

The peer said: "He had a big shopping list and he came back with absolutely nothing.

"He came back with some minor changes to our benefits regulation, that is how impotent our country has become.

"I believe we need to leave the European Union, take back control of our own affairs and have accountable members of parliament who you can kick out when they get it wrong, as you did me in 1997.

"To be fair to the Prime Minister he was on a hiding to nothing, he might as well have gone to the St Andrews Old Course and said 'I have a great idea, I think we should stop playing golf and start playing tennis'.

Ballot box

Lord Forsyth claimed people of influence in the EU were on a mission to create a European state with a centralised currency, exchequer and government.

He said: "We (Britain) have a very small voice in Europe and a loss of power - we cannot decide VAT and we cannot on immigration.

"This means we discriminate against people in India and Pakistan and we do not the ability to have a fair immigration policy to help those in greatest need, not do we have any more control over immigration policy.

"The stakes could not be higher in this debate - it is about our ability to take control our own affairs.

"To quote from the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320 'we fight not for riches nor honour or glory but for freedom alone which no honest man surrenders but with his life."

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland last month reaffirmed a long held policy which supports Britain's continued membership of the EU.

The Church is not telling people how to vote but is encouraging all people over 18 to make their voice heard at the ballot box.